The history of electrical power in India is more than a century old. The British rule brought the electrical power generating stations in the late nineteenth century in Maharashtra.
The first Prime Minister of India, the late Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated the Bhakra Nangal dam in the late 1950s and thus laid the foundation of a power-rich country.
The railway routes between New Delhi-Bombay (Mumbai) and New Delhi- Chennai were electrified during the sixties and remain operational till date. The Amritsar-New Delhi route is being electrified and would take only a few years before it commences full-fledged operations.
The post-independence era brought power generation, transmission and distribution in the hands of the state. The states were granted permission for promoting their own electricity boards.
India has 28 States and 7 Union Territories, each one having power stations located within its state capital. The vital arms of the states are the major power producers in the country.
The key power players include National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Ltd. (NHPC), Nuclear Power Corporation Ltd. (NPCL), National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd. (NTPC) and Gas Authority of India Ltd. (GAIL).
During the beginning of the 1990s, the Indian economy surged towards a free market, a multinational culture and an efficiency-oriented global village. The electrical power needs became more prominent due to rapid industrialization and bustling population pressures.
The chronic power shortages forced the state, the entrepreneur and the household to look for alternative sources of power. This resulted in power generation efforts ranging from 4 KW (in the form of a portable generating set) to 10,000 MW (in the form of a nuclear power station).
During the 1990s, when the free market winds blew stronger, the corporate sector was allowed to have its own captive power plants. The foreign companies like Enron, GEC, Westinghouse, etc. were invited to invest in private power generation and deliver electricity at a price India could afford.
The major entrants on the scene had to face severe teething troubles, mainly due to the lack of infrastructure and due to the modus-operandi of the state. The plans are afoot for generating power through corporate resources and distributing the same through private agencies under the supervision of the state.
By all international norms, India has been declared a “power shortage country” and the one severely handicapped for future growth on account of shortage of electrical energy.
Table below (given on next page) compares India with the other South East Asian countries in terms of annual power generation and capacity (installed and proposed addition).
The countries, which have not yet developed “power generation infrastructure,” are trying to develop the same. At the same time, the nations of the world irrespective of their status of developing or developed nations are trying to exploit the alternative sources of energy. The chief alternative sources for the generation of electric power are:
(a) Wind Power (using the wind mills for generating AC or DC, drawing water from the earth for irrigation purposes).
(b) Solar Power (using photoelectric cells for generating current and subsequently, charging the batteries for usage at a later stage).
(c) Tidal Power for generating (taming the tides electricity using the ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) process and using the electrical power so obtained for simple industrial applications).
(d) Hydel Power (controlling the flow of the rivers and reservoirs and using their hydro-potentials for generating base load for the industry and the household).
The next seven years would witness an investment of Rs. 3,00,000 crores and would allow 200 power plants to operate on the Indian soil. The installed capacity which was 75,000 MW in 1996 is likely to be doubled to 1,50,000 MW by the year 2003 AD.
The nuclear explosions conducted by Indian scientists on May 11, and May 13, 1998 sidelined a very crucial issue- nuclear power generation. India would utilize her nuclear engineering abilities for peaceful purposes only and the most prominent application would be nuclear power plants spread throughout the nation.
India has fully operational atomic power plants in Tarapur (400 MW), Kota (400 MW), Kalpakkarn (200 MW), Narore (200 MW) and Kakrapar. No doubt, our nuclear power generation ability would rise with increased expertise in nuclear engineering in the years to come.
Coal and gas- based power plants are likely to take a backseat. Naphtha-based power plants are also likely to be in vogue in future. Hydro power plants do have a great potential but these projects entail heavy initial costs. Thermal power plants could be supplied coal for at least 150 years to come.
These plants, coupled with hydro-power plants, could supply the base load for the national grid. The peak loads could be met by naphtha-based plants, nuclear power plants, and oil-fired or gas-fired power plants.
The economic survey (2006-07) demonstrates that the subsidy for agriculture and domestic sectors would be around Rs. 50,000 crores by the end of 2007-08 period. Further, the survey points out that the total commercial losses of the State
Electricity Boards (SEBs) are likely to go up to Rs. 15,000 crores in 2007-08. The reason is attributed to low plant load factor and heavy transmission and distribution losses. The total power generation during 2006-07 was 577.6 billion KW which shows a rise of about 6 per cent over the corresponding period last year.
The average plant load factor of thermal plants has improved to 64.4. Further, the addition of capacity generation during April-December period was 1,636 MW whereas the target was of 1,998 MW.
The- demand of power far outstrips the supply in India. We need power conservation measures (at home and in domestic sector), power generation attempts (at state and national levels) and power transmission and distribution management (through better international technologies available at global levels). Power is the lifeline of a nation. We must generate enough power for survival and overall technological and economic growth.